It’s nearly impossible to perform at your best when you are feeling ill. When you are plagued by a pounding headache or an upset stomach daily disturbances and disruptions are difficult to manage. After all, a majority of your attention is focused on holding yourself together until you have the time to rest and recuperate. Others who are unaware that you aren’t feeling well may wrongly believe that you are inattentive, incompetent, or rude.
Just like you, your dog may also act differently when he isn’t feeling well. Unfortunately, you can’t simply ask him if he is feeling sick. Instead, a bit of detective work is required to determine if your dog is suffering from a health complication or a behavioral problem. Following are few health complications that may masquerade as bad behavior.
Hypothyroidism is a medical condition that affects a dog’s endocrine (hormonal) system, often triggering well-known symptoms like weight gain, lethargy, and hair loss. In addition to these well-known symptoms, hypothyroidism can also trigger a variety of lesser-known behavioral symptoms like unexplainable aggression, impaired cognition, and severe phobias.
These troubling behavioral symptoms can appear out of nowhere, leaving dog owners utterly confused by their dogs’ sudden personality changes. Luckily, hypothyroidism is relatively easy to treat with medication. If you notice a sudden, disturbing, and otherwise unexplainable change in your dog’s behavior, you can ask your vet to run a blood test to check thyroid hormone levels.
Organ diseases - like those that attack the kidneys or liver - are relatively common in senior dogs. These conditions can impair your dog’s bowel and urine control and increase frequency of urination. If your house-trained senior dog starts to have “accidents” for the first time since he was a puppy, a medical condition may be to blame.
Conditions that affect the nervous system - like epilepsy, immune impairments, and degenerative diseases - can cause cognitive dysfunction and prompt a change in your dog’s behavior. Your dog may appear confused or disoriented, get lost in familiar locations, wander aimlessly, have difficulty sleeping, or seem anxious and irritable.
Some of these conditions can be treated, or managed, with medication or surgery. Unfortunately a degrading nervous system, and resulting cognitive dysfunction, is frequently a consequence of aging which is unavoidable.
Any condition that causes your dog to feel pain and discomfort can lead to an increase in irritability, anxiety, and fear. Your dog may not understand why he is in pain and interpret the uncomfortable sensation as a threat. When threatened, some dogs retreat in fear, while others lash out in aggression. A dog is even more likely to respond in an aggressive manner if he feels cornered, or if his mobility is impaired.
You shouldn’t overlook sudden acts of aggression as they can be signs of more serious, underlying, conditions. It is rare for an unprovoked and friendly dog to suddenly snap. If you are unsure whether your dog is suffering from a health complication or a behavioral problem it is always best to err on the side of caution and consult your vet.